I have been in the US over recent weeks, during the period of the Boston bombings and the hunt for the perpetrators. It may surprise some British readers to know that although American public debate is undoubtedly wider and more robust than in Britain, even America displays denial and deflection when it turns out that the culprits are radical Islamists.
I think of this as ‘Toulouse syndrome.’ Much of the reaction to Boston is very reminiscent of what we saw last year after the shooting of seven people in France. From the first attacks on French soldiers until after the third shootings at a Jewish school, both national and international news focussed on the possibility that the lone gunman had been a far-right extremist. This led to claims that various right wing politicians – including then President Sarkozy – bore at least some degree of responsibility for the attacks. Alleged trails of culpability were sniffed out and fingers pointed.
However, once the gunman turned out to be a radical Muslim called Mohammed Merah, the speculation ceased. Nothing much to see here. Please move along.
Reaction to the atrocity in Boston has had a similar flavour. Before the suspects were identified, some on the political left even said that they ‘hoped’ that the bomber would turn out to be a ‘white American’. Certainly if their dream had come true then current reporting of the case would be different. Remember the way in which the attempted murder of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was laid straight at the doors of Tea Party activists and Sarah Palin?
In America, as in Europe, civil society and the political class are well prepared for dealing with certain types of extremism. But they remain infinitely less able to deal with extremism when it comes from radical Islamists. When Representative Peter King set up his committee to look into domestic radicalisation a couple of years back he was excoriated by left-wing and Muslim groups in the US as well as many on the political right. They included the usual accusations of bigotry, ‘Islamophobia’ and provoking of a potential ‘backlash’ against Muslims.
Long before Boston, Rep. King should have been offered an apology by such critics. Instead America looks like it is going through that same process of evasion which is so familiar to Europe. Already Muslim leaders are warning of a potential ‘backlash’ and large parts of the media are doing what they can to pretend that the faith of the terrorists is the least important thing imaginable.